Gum disease is one of the most common dental problems adults face,
but gum disease can begin at just about any age. Gum disease often
develops slowly and without causing any pain. Sometimes you may not
notice any signs until the disease is serious and you are in danger of
The good news is:
- gum disease can almost always be prevented,
- if it starts, it can be treated and
- it can even be turned around (or reversed) in its early stages.
How it happens
Healthy gums and bone hold teeth firmly in place. Gums attach to
teeth just below the edge of the gums. Gum disease affects the
attachment between gums and teeth.
Gum disease begins with plaque. Plaque is clear and sticky and
contains germs (or bacteria). It forms on your teeth every day. It also
forms where your teeth and your gums meet. If plaque is not removed
every day by brushing and flossing, it hardens into tartar (also called
Tartar cannot be removed by brushing and flossing. Tartar can lead to
an infection at the point where the gums attach to the teeth (called
the "point of attachment"). In these early stages, gum disease is called
gingivitis. Your gums may be a bit red and bleed when you brush, but
you may not notice anything.
As gingivitis gets worse, tiny pockets of infection form at the
"point of attachment." You cannot see them, but you may notice puffy
gums, traces of blood on your toothbrush, or a change in the colour of
your gums. Your gums will probably not be sore.
Over time, the infection breaks down the gum tissue that attaches to
the teeth. This is called "attachment loss." At this point, you will
notice swelling, bleeding or colour changes in your gums.
Along with "attachment loss," gum disease causes the bone that holds
your teeth in place to break down too. If gum disease is not treated,
teeth become loose and in danger of falling out.
The best way to deal with gum disease is not to get it in the first
place. To protect your oral health, brush your teeth at least twice a
day, floss at least once a day and see your dentist regularly for oral
In its early stages, gum disease is very hard to see. You may not
know that you have a problem. But every time you have a dental exam,
your dentist looks for signs of gum disease.
Your dentist may use a dental tool called a "periodontal probe" to
measure where your gums attach to your teeth. Healthy gums attach to
teeth just below the edge of the gum. If your gums attach to your teeth
below this point, it is a sign of gum disease.
X-rays to show how much bone is around your teeth. If you have gum
disease, getting rid of plaque and tartar gives your gums a chance to
get better. That's why in the early stages of gum disease, the best
treatment is cleaning by your dentist or dental hygienist to remove
built-up tartar, brushing twice a day to remove plaque and flossing once
a day to remove plaque.
your dentist may refer you to a dental specialist called a periodontist.
Checking Your Gums
Check your gums on a regular basis for these signs of gum disease:
- a change in the colour of your gums
- gums that are red around your teeth
- gums that bleed every time you brush or floss
- bad breath that will not go away
- a taste of metal in your mouth
- shiny, puffy or sore gums
- teeth that are sensitive for no reason
These are all good reasons to see your dentist right away. Gum disease
is one of the main reasons why adults lose their teeth. But the good
news is gum disease can almost always be prevented. If it starts, it can
be treated and can even be turned around (or reversed) in its early
If gum disease is not treated, you can have gums that are always
sore, red and puffy, get a painful infection (called an abscess) in the
area between your teeth and gums or lose your teeth.
Without enough gum tissue and bone to hold your teeth in place, they
can become loose and fall out. Nobody wants to have these things happen.
With regular care, they won't.
Canadian Dental Association